June 27, 2001

Grandfathers and Widows
with HIV Share Stories at U.N. AIDS Summit

DAFNA LINZER  Associated Press from the San Francisco Chronicle


UNITED NATIONS (AP) -- David Brooks Arnold, a 65-year-old grandfather from Washington, D.C., and Josephine Chiturumani, a 42-year old mother of four from Zimbabwe, have more in common than they expected. They both work for the Red Cross, both lost partners to AIDS and both are HIV-positive.

People from all walks of life with HIV and AIDS traveled from every continent to share their stories Tuesday in moving testimonials that drew an audience of government officials, AIDS experts and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

Patinya Noyphon, a petite Thai woman with a sweet smile and soft brown hair, found out she was HIV-positive when her husband died of AIDS in 1996. Her story moved many to tears Tuesday as she recounted the shock of learning her husband had the disease and that he left her with the virus.

In 1997, she joined a network of AIDS patients that began counseling others with the virus that has infected more than 36 million people.

That network has grown into an international movement of people living with HIV and AIDS. On Tuesday they formed a partnership with the Red Cross to bring more infected people into caregiving roles.

"The active participation of those living with HIV/AIDS is absolutely vital," Annan told a group of about 200 people who had gathered to hear HIV-positive advocates speak.

Annan, who has made the fight against AIDS a personal crusade, said the alliance "sends a powerful message to decision-makers, and to society as a whole, about the importance of tackling stigma and discrimination."

Many attending Tuesday's session, part of a three-day U.N. conference on HIV/AIDS that wraps up Wednesday, discussed shame and discrimination.

"We are not viruses," said Adam Powell, a Norwegian delegate who is HIV-positive. "We are humanity."

Others used the opportunity to mourn loved ones and encourage those infected to continue fighting.

Chiturumani, an AIDS counselor in Zimbabwe, lost her husband to the pandemic last year. She also lost her brother, a nephew, another brother and sister-in-law and numerous cousins -- 22 relatives in all since 1994 -- to AIDS.

Over 20 years, Arnold, director of international relations for the American Red Cross, lost more than 100 friends, including his longtime partner, to AIDS.

Despite their vastly different backgrounds, Chiturumani and Arnold felt an immediate bond because of their similar experiences with the disease.

"Josephine is living my past," said Arnold, noting that the disease detected among gay men in the United States in the 1980s is now ravaging whole communities in Africa.

Chiturumani said reaching out to others with AIDS has helped her live with the virus. "It makes me believe that tomorrow there will be someone out there who will care for me," she said.